A matriarch to be missed

Apr 26, 2012 By Randy Tucker

It is not often you can say you knew someone your entire life, but that was the case between my mom and my Aunt Mary. Jeanette Gasser and Mary Cram were friends the first day they entered elementary school , and they remained friends for the next 70 years, eventually becoming sisters-in-law along the way.

My aunt Mary Gasser passed away this week in Midland, Texas.

I can honestly say that I can't remember a time when Mary was around that I didn't have fun.

From my youngest memories of traveling to Wyoming from Arkansas and then California, I looked forward to meeting Aunt Mary and Uncle Gene and the gaggle of "Gasser Boys" at Grandma and Grandpa's little white house on the road that bears their name just northwest of the Riverton city limits.

This may come off as a bit old-fashioned, and some would consider it sexist, but it is the way things are. It is said you measure a man by his accomplishment but you measure a woman by her family. If you were to gauge my Aunt Mary's life simply in the success of her children, she would excel in every aspect of it, but there was so much more.

Gene and Mary had eight children. Aunt Mary often joked about what a good Catholic she was in all those children.

They lost a son, Tim, as an infant but raised five boys and two girls to adulthood. They lost their oldest son, my cousin Mike, earlier this year, but the other four boys and two girls remained close to Gene and Mary through all of it.

Mike, Gary and Danny were so close in age that Gary was the same age for a month each year as both his older and younger brother. Ron and Rick were a few years younger and I was, right in the middle of these cousins.

In retrospect, the trouble we got into together as kids would be embraced by many parents today. Setting off fireworks, practical jokes, breaking bicycles and constant running, wrestling, BB-gun shooting and games of kick the can dominated our long summer days together.

Moms and aunts are special. How they know what you're up to when you haven't even done something yet is one of the mysteries of the universe.

As children we answered to aunts and uncles as if they were our own parents.

Mary was all about family.

As we grew into teenagers, our games became more associated with football, cars and girls, with interspersed trips to the Knight Drive In and West Drive In theaters.

Jeannie and Penney were much younger but were as competitive as the boys and held a special place for Uncle Gene and Aunt Mary. Multitudes of grandchildren were a constant in their lives after the kids moved out.

Gene came home from the Philippines with ailments that would affect him his entire life. He was my mom's oldest brother and revered as only the oldest son can be by younger sisters.

The Crams lived in Sand Draw when Mary was little, and she and my mom became best friends when they walked into the same first-grade classroom. When the Crams moved north of town they became constant companions.

Mary and Jeanette often waved to each other across the mile or so that separated their homes on present-day Gasser and Country Acres roads and walked to each other's home to play. Mary and Gene married, and the relationship with my mom changed. Not worse, not better, just different, as everyone with a sister- or brother-in-law knows.

Life wasn't always easy for Mary. Uncle Gene followed my grandfather, Eugene Sr., to the oil field after the war and became a mainstay in the fields north of Casper at Midwest. Uncle Gene was a frighteningly powerful man with a quick temper as a young man, but Mary ruled the roost. Living in isolated man camps outside Midwest with water so polluted with natural gas that we used to hold a match to the faucet when we turned it on to see it flare wasn't easy for a mom with a big family. As the boys grew older and the family moved to the "city" of Midwest, they inherited more chores around the house. But the work was never really done. Mary always had an infectious smile through it all, with just a glimmer of mischief in her eye.

She was a very fun aunt.

Mary's greatest tribute rests in the teachers, engineers and business people her children grew into. At every stage of their lives, her children competed well, Whether as high school or college athletes or in business and industry, you could find one of the Gasser kids pushing the envelope. Her grandchildren continue the tradition.

Mary will be greatly missed as the matriarch of a fabulous family, but her handiwork goes on.

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